09 May, 2012



Meet 500 Startups’ new batch of startups

Posted: 09 May 2012 09:00 AM PDT

Startup accelerator 500 Startups announced its fourth batch of companies on Wednesday, a fun group that includes a necktie subscription service, a Dropbox-based collaboration tool for creatives, a consumer-action site currently trying to take down Big Cable, and a property-inspection iPad app.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, 500 Startups is an early-stage seed fund and incubator program that's become a brand name over the last few years. The group invests between $25,000 to $250,000 in primarily consumer & small-to-medium-size internet startups, as well as startups related web infrastructure services.

Its latest selection of startups is eclectic, but there are a few trends: Fashion, and help for people who are fashion-deficient, is hot — inspired no doubt by a little company called Pinterest. Education disguised as fun, specifically on iPads, is huge as well. Only seven of the 26 companies have a female co-founder. There are twelve international entries from variety of countries including Mexico, Brazil, Slovenia, India, and the Philippines — and over half are from outside San Francisco.

“The previous batches have always had some international presence, but that’s something that really stands out in this group,” said 500 Startups partner Christine Tsai, who told VentureBeat’s Tom Cheredar that they didn’t necessarily seek out companies in foreign markets. Founding partner Dave McClure also previously noted that the startup accelerator doesn’t mind looking outside its comfort zone, and has added a number of international partners to help boost its awareness.

Companies accepted into 500 startups get a chunk of funding  in exchange for equity, access to a network of mentors and resources, participate in various events, and have a spot presenting in front of potential investors at the Demo Days conference.

500 Startups put together a short video for the new batch’s debut, inspired by the new Hunger Games movie, but we’ve created a round up of the latest startup hopefuls to watch below:


This website is a directory of activities that keep kids busy while freeing up a few hours (or days or weeks) of down time for their parents. Calling itself a “Yelp for kids’ activities” the company grew out of a listing of listing summer-camps that started last year called Sign Up For Camp.com. Now it’s expanding the business to include shorter activities such as dance classes, art programs, and other after-school time-killers in its two pilot locations, the San Francisco Bay Area and Philadelphia. On the site, parents can read program descriptions, locate a program on a map, or check out user reviews.

A lot of the company’s copy is angled specifically at moms, but the assumption that fathers wouldn’t be equally interested in finding extra-curricular programs for their brood seems old-fashioned, not to mention bad business. Dads want some alone time too, you know? The company was founded by Silicon Valley vets Shilpa Dalmia, Chandini Ammineni, and Peggy Chang.


At first we thought this was another fantasy league startup, but were pleasantly surprised to see that it a tool for organizing real live sports teams. Using a combination of the startup’s desktop, web, and mobile apps, you can organize a your amateur soccer team, sloshball league, or quiddich playoffs. Send invites over email or text, track who’s in the lineup as people respond, create a landing page for game details with a map, and quickly let everyone know about last-minute changes or cancellations. The London-based company was founded by Andrew Crump and Piers Rollinson.


Getting dressed can be hard, especially for fashion-challenged dudes. Bombfell just wants to help. This is actually a startup that Silicon Valley’s hoodie-wearing hoards desperately need (perhaps for when they’re presenting their company to potential investors ahead of a major IPO). The subscription-based service asks you what you need in your closet — perhaps you want help with finding non-jeans pants, decent collared shirts, maybe even a sweater vest that brings out your eyes. A stylist will handpick the requested item from a selection of hip brands (Ben Sherman, French Connection) and talented new designers (Descendant of Thieves) and ship it to you. If you don’t like what they’ve sent, mail it back with free shipping and don’t pay anything for the clothing item. If you decide, hey, this button down makes me look pretty fly, you can keep it and Bombfell charges you a $69 flat fee.

Bombfell was started by a couple of Harvard alums, Jason Kim and Bernie Yoo. Kim has worked at Nickelodeon Games, MTV Networks, and Morgan Stanley. Yoo put in time at LOLapps, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft, as well as Y Combinator alum Foodoro, an online marketplace for gourmet food.


Sometimes we’re at tech conferences or events and think, dang, how crazy is it that we still exchange paper business cards? Following in the footsteps of Bump, CardFlick is taking a stab at the virtual business-card space with a design-centric iOS app that came out last year. You can design a slick-looking virtual card using photos from your Camera Roll or Instagram and then physically flick the screen to send your card to someone else who has the app. If they don’t have it installed, you can just email, text, or tweet it. The info is automatically added to the iPhone’s Contacts app, and if someone updates their CardFlick information, the same data is automatically updated for all the people who have their card. An Android version of the app is currently in beta. Unsurprisingly given its beautiful interface, CardFlick was founded by a designer, Ketan Anjaria.


This tool for school is a web-based platform that helps teachers and institutions manage day-to-day tasks. There is an app store filled with compatible web-apps on a variety of middle school and high school topics. Those apps can use the Chalkable API to work with any of the service’s core features, including a shared calendar, grading tools, attendance tracking, and a custom emailing interface. For Chalkable to work best, a school needs to set it up so all teachers can take advantage of it. The cost is $10 per student a year, with half of that going into a budget for apps. The New York City based startup was founded by Michael Levy, who previously founded Entertainment Teller Machine and worked at TriSpecs Inc, and  Zoli Honig, who started the IT firm ZZ Tech and fro-yo chain Berrylicious.


One of this group’s international entries, Fontacto is a Google Voice-esque tool for people in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. An entrepreneur or freelancer working out of a home office or coffee shop can use a virtual Fontaco number to sound more professional, like they’re in a proper office and wearing pants. A Fontaco number can be rerouted to any landline, mobile phone, or even a Skype account. You’re not limited to a number for your location, you can get digits for other cities and give the impression of being everywhere at once. The startup was founded by a team of four: Daniel Martinez, Joaquin Martinez, Jose Antonio del Rio, and Ricardo Cacique.


This new collaborative offering piggybacks on wildly popular cloud sharing-tool Dropbox. Groupiter adds real-time conversations to file sharing. Upload that power-point deck and sit back while your co-workers discuss the pros and cons of using Comic Sans on the title page. Share a few photos of wedding dresses and get immediate opinions from a sibling overseas. The company is still keeping details under wraps and is not currently offering the tool to the general public (you can sign up on the homepage to be on the invite list), so its hard to tell how much it has in common with similar offerings in the space such as 37Signals’ Campfire. It will most likely be aimed at more creative types and workflows, and founder Chris Dyball (formerly of Getty Images and Surfing Magazine) said recently on Twitter “we’ve been working with leading creatives at Warner, Sony, Lego, Hulu.”

Happy Inspector

When you think “property inspections,” the word “happy” might not immediately pop into your mind. If you are a property manager who has to do these types of tedious inspections for a living, being able to do them on a slick iPad app is probably very happy-making indeed. You can fill out the default fields (the kitchen sing is good/fair/dirty/broken) on the checklist or make your own custom entries, and attach an image to each one. When you’re done with a report you can automatically generate a PDF for the house, apartment, TV studio, ice cream parlor, or hospital and email it to any relevant parties. The app is free, but each inspection will cost $1.79, or you can inspect your little heart out with the unlimted $45 a month plan. The company has two offices in Australia and was founded by Jindou Lee, Jindou Lee, and Andrew Mackenzie-Ross.


This ticketing and events-discovery site lets organizers or performers add their own events, sells tickets, and shows attendees which of their friends will be at the same concert, art show, conference, or football match. It will even share where their buddies are seated. After collecting a bit of information from a user, the site will even be able to recommend similar events they might enjoy. Afterwards, attendees can leave reviews or comments about an event. The company is based in Brazil, where the founders saw an opportunity to provide much-needed electronic-ticketing technology to ticket vendors. Co-founders Gabriel Benarrós, Sebastien Robaszkiewicz, and Marcelo Henrique are all from Brazil, though Benarrós studied behavioral economics at Stanford.


One of a number of fashion-related startups in this group, Monogram is a shopping app for the iPad that turns an algorithm into a personal stylist. Similar to popular news-reading apps Flipboard and Zite, the app learns what brands and fashions you like over time and edits down the content it delivers to fit your tastes. However, the Monogram founders were smart enough to add some humans to the mix because “machines alone have no sense of style/trends and do a poor job of fashion recommendations.” The app groups things into categories such as price (purses under $500? We’ll take four!) and new, or by store or flash sale site, such as Gilt Group. Leo Chen and Josh Chen aren’t just co-founders of the Mountain View-based company, they’re also roommates! The two met on a Geeks on a Plane trip and have another startup together, Packagetrackr, which covers their rent with AdSense money.


This iPhone app wants to make it easier for small businesses to communicate with their clients or other business contacts, improving customer retention. Using the app, you can connect with people using text messages, email, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. You can have one-on-one conversations or send out mass promotions. The app will automatically address each email to the individual person, saving you the pain and misery of a mail merge. It can also be used to encourage referrals and book appointment slots. The service costs $25 a month after a free one-month trial period. PocketOffice is a San Francisco based startup, co-founded by Alan Wells (formerly of Zynga, Affinity Labs, and Nextive) and Glenn Allen (a co-founder of OpenTable).


Firing off an angry rant to a customer service email address can be satisfying, but does it really make a difference? PublikDemand helps organize your outrage against companies, union-style. Customers can band together to make demands such as taking on Comcast for violating net neutrality. To up the stakes, if a company doesn’t comply PublikDemand will work with its competitors on exclusive offers. Naturally, the idea was inspired by customer service black hole Time Warner Cable, which charged Courtney Powell hundreds of dollars for a router they claimed she didn’t return. Powell is now CEO of PublikDemand, which she started in Austin, Texas with co-founders Jim England, A.T. Fouty, and Richard McClellan.


After last year’s deluge of daily deals sites, many of us were suffering daily deals fatigue. (Group-yawn, amirite?) Sqoot has a different approach that may bring a little life, and money, back to the genre. Using the Sqoot API, apps can integrate daily deals offers into their existing apps, giving them a way to make some money. For $99 a month, apps can keep 50 percent of the revenue on any deals sold through their app. It’s a nice alternative for any publisher or developer with a location-based app. The Chicago-based co-founders Mo Yehia and Avand Amiri are still distancing the company from a gross bit of sexism while promoting a hackathon earlier this year.


Storypanda makes interactive kid’s stories for the iPad. The app acts as a bookshelf and marketplace for Storypanda books — the selection will be updated monthly. A modern day choose-your-own-adventure book, kids can re-mix their favorite stories and share the results with their friends. The Vancouver-based startup’s co-founders, James Chutter and Pavel Bains, bring an impressive amount of experience in interactive entertainment, including time in the game, film, and TV industries.


Work productivity-booster Teamly starts by having employees enter their top five priorities for the day and month, and then sends them helpful daily email reminders. Managers can track what their minions are working on and see the latest status of any tasks, as well as charts showing their productivity over time. The micromanagement app claims it will help ease micromanagement, perhaps by making it an unspoken, passive sort of activity. If unspoken isn’t your management style, you can leave comments on different tasks (“Stop reading MSNnow and finish that feature. -Dylan Tweney”). Teamly will only let you set a handful of goals, which can help you focus on what’s important. The UK-based startup was founded by Scott Allison, Matthew Berman, and Edward Robertshaw, who met in Omaha, Nebraska.


TeleportMe is a panorama photography app for Android smartphones. The app lets you take large panoramic images with your phone’s camera and stitches them together. The final product can be shared on Twitter or Facebook, or though TeliportMe where you can set up a profile for yourself. The fun part is browsing other users’ panoramas from around the world. The app will compete against similar products, Photosynth and TourWrist. TeliportMe was founded in Bangalore, India by Vineet Devaiah and Abhinav Asthana.


This startup connects people who need help with older or infirm family members with qualified caregivers in their area. Trusting a stranger to take care of a loved one can be stressful, but TenderTree helps by carefully screening the candidates for you. Caregivers are subjected to a federal background check and interviews with previous clients before they can even be listed. Once you hire someone, the service helps with the little details like managing payment, contracts, and tracking hours. The service is in beta in San Francisco, but will be rolling out to other cities in the near future. The Bay Area company was founded by Andy Agrawal and Dana Wu.

Tie Society

When you hear the name “Netflix” you immediately think of ties, right? Us too, which is why Tie Society is offering online rentals for men’s neck ties. As the company’s founders explain it, not every upstanding man has the opportunity to buy a new tie for every event. Tie Society allows them to choose between ties of all colors, materials, and widths to keep up with the trends no matter how small their closet is. With only 300 ties for all those necks, we hope they will grow their inventory as they grow their customer base. (The Tie Society customer makes us think of that Tea Party YouTube video created by Smirnoff Iced Tea. It features Martha’s-Vineyard-20-somethings, swaddled in seersucker and cable knit, “chillin’” on golf courses.)

Timbuktu Labs

This iPad app is an interactive magazine packed with a variety of content to keep your kids entertained while they’re learning. The issues are filled with great design, things to read, quizzes, photos, simple games, and videos. For example, in the Night issue there’s an article shows you how to make shadow puppets, tips on sleeping tight, and fun stats and facts. The Italy-based company was started by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo.


Representing Japan, this year-old news site (called TOM for short) has the latest on Manga and Anime culture. Currently, all of the action is taking place on the startup’s Facebook page, which has 3.7 million likes. Our favorite detail about TOM is that once a month everyone comes to work in full cosplay getups. We hope they’ve carried that tradition over to 500 Startups.


You hate tracking your finances, you love playing games. What if your bank accounts were a little more game-like? Toshl wants to make finance and budgeting fun, and it uses actual adorable monster characters to do it. Impressively, the app is available on most every phone platform, including BlackBerry and Nokia. The Slovenia-based company was founded by Matic Bitenc and Miha Hribar.


This startup out of the Philippines gives musicians a way to promote their music on Twitter by auto-tweeting songs and directing followers to a special landing page for each tune. The page is optimized for maximum sharing, hashtags and all, to help your ditty go full Rebecca Black (only good, hopefully). The company already has some pretty impressive musicians using it, including Duran Duran, Bow Wow, Jason Mraz, and Brian Adams, who released a single exclusively on the platform. The company goes up against similar audio-hosting service SoundCloud. It was founded by Stefano Fazzini and Christian Fazzini.


Another monthly delivery service, UmbaBox is packing up handmade products for the ladies who love Etsy. Each shipment contains one to three products such as jewelery, bath products, or home decor. You never know what you’re going to get, but the crew at UmbaBox is handpicking the goods to prevent any Regretsy-worthy shipments. Memberships costs $23 a month, with a minimum three-month commitment. The Washington D.C.-based company was founded by Lauren Thorp.


College kids might spend most of their time in sweatpants, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have style, right? Uscoop is another fashion-deals site, this time just for kids in college, who have their own micro-trends to stay up on. Instead of using an algorithm or stylist, Uscoop looks at what college kids are wearing to give other college kids an idea of what college kids are wearing. The D.C.-based company peddles “all-American” brands and was founded by Jocelyn Gailliot, Madeline Moore, and September Rinnier.


Registering for kitchen wares is so old school. Hip young couples getting married want to pool their guests money for exotic honeymoons instead. Traveler’s Joy has been the go-to site for honeymoon registries for years. Wanderable hopes to make a dent in its market share by giving users a bit more control over the design of their landing pages, and by adding a community layer so newlyweds can share (the g-rated) details about what they did on their honeymoon. The co-founders, Marcela Miyazawa and Jenny Chen, met when they were assigned as roommates their freshman year at Stanford.


Finally, Yogome disguises learning about topics such as math, languages, recycling, and health, in a cool game that pits a squad of super-smart heroes against the evil Queen Ignorantia. Each game is a stand-alone iPad app with bright comic-book-like illustrations. The Mexico-based startup was founded by Manolo Diaz and Alberto Colin.

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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AmEx is the king of check ins — and it could own local

Posted: 09 May 2012 08:56 AM PDT

Getting enough data to make local recommendations has proved tough. A restaurant reviewer writing for a local newspaper might write a hundred or so reviews a year. Zagat might cover several thousand in its printed books. Yelp provides near universal coverage in the United States, but it still doesn’t have enough information to provide useful recommendations.

But American Express is sitting on top of some of the best data in the world with which to make recommendations: transaction histories of millions of cardholders. I’ve been an American Express cardmember since 1993. In theory, AmEx has 18 years of data on me. (AmEx spokeswoman Charlotte Fuller declined to comment on how far back AmEx keeps transaction data.)

Last month, AmEx collected 60 data points on me from my transactions. If you view everyone of those as a check in, you realize how powerful that is. Very few companies have as much data on me. The likely suspects are Facebook, Google, Twitter, and the various ad networks. Most startups certainly don’t. And other credit card networks like Visa and MasterCard don’t own the relationship with the card holders — Citibank, Chase, Bank of America and other issuers do — so the data is spread thin.

The data that AmEx has is much higher quality than what Facebook, Google and the others have:

  • It’s complete, not aspirational. On social networks, we like to project how cool and special we are. We check in at the fancy places. AmEx knows that sometimes I will eat at Taco Bell at 2 in the morning. (But I have never eaten at Applebee’s.)
  • It’s validated. I walked by Commander’s Palace the other day in New Orleans. I checked in on Foursquare and posted that to Twitter and Facebook. It was a fake check in. I didn’t actually eat or drink there. AmEx knows that.
  • It includes dollars spent. Not only does AmEx know I went someplace, it knows how much I spent there.
  • It is harder to spam. Restaurant owners and competitors can’t manipulate their ratings given the volume of data.
  • It doesn’t suffer from a sample bias like Yelp does. Everyone with an AmEx card is contributing data, not a very small subset of people.

For each transaction, AmEx knows who made it, the dollar amount, and the time. This may not seem like enough data, but if you get it in the volume that AmEx does, it gets really interesting. Although AmEx does not disclose the number of transactions on its network, last year it processed $822.2 billion in transactions. By my estimates, it is processing between 5 and 10 billion transactions a year. That’s a lot of data! By contrast, Yelp has 27.6 million reviews in its entire history, about 20% of which are spam. AmEx has 98 million cards in force. That is a lot of unique users contributing data.

In addition to the data AmEx gets from each transaction, it has relationships with cardmembers and merchants. For each card, it knows the billing address, user’s age, affinity (for example, my primary card is the Starwood AmEx) and type of card (personal, small business or corporate). For each merchant, it knows the location and typical volume. With its partnerships with Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare, AmEx is also connecting its records with social media identities.

Here are some of the things that AmEx could do with all of these data:

  • Recommend restaurants based on other restaurants you’ve visited. People who regularly go to Applebee’s might get more chain restaurants, people who eat at fancy places will get more fancy places.
  • Make recommendations based on budget. Unlike local sites that rely on users to give price ranges, AmEx knows what the typical transactions are.
  • Separate “locals” places from “tourist” places. Because AmEx knows your billing ZIP code, it can determine whether you live in the area or are just visiting. Taking this a step further, AmEx could distinguish between neighborhood places and finer places. The fact that I keep spending money at a place three blocks from where I live isn’t surprising. But if I keep going back to the same place 20 miles away, that place is probably very good.
  • Make recommendations for expense account places. Because AmEx knows corporate cards vs. personal cards, it can make recommendations for a fancy business dinner.
  • Tell me what businesses are open on a holiday. It’s Memorial Day and I don’t know what’s open. By collecting and analyzing real-time swipe data, AmEx could tell me where I can go. (Presumably businesses that are swiping transactions are open.)

AmEx knows me well enough to know what I typically buy. It uses this to figure out fraud. I recently tried to make a $245 purchase at Brookstone. Buying overpriced stuff doesn’t fit my profile, so AmEx rejected the charge. (Charges for $500 and $1,500 on Amazon fly through.) When you’ve got money on the line, you have to invest in good algorithms.

I would love to see AmEx use all of its data and algorithms to help me make decisions on where to spend my money.

AmEx clearly sees the value in it, too.

“Data is going to be the driving force of commerce going forward,” Dan Schulman, AmEx’s Group President for Enterprise Growth told me back in January. “In many ways, the data associated with making a transaction may very will be more valuable than the value that you get as a financial services company from helping to complete that transaction.”

So why doesn’t it move faster? My sense is that the company is worried about getting too far ahead of consumers. It’s also hyper-concerned about privacy.

“We need to make it clear that while we definitely look at data as a tool to better service our customers and deliver value in new and innovative ways, we have strong privacy policies in place to inform customers of how and when we use their information, as well as offer them the ability to opt-out of ANY information sharing,” Fuller said. I’ve asked AmEx executives at various levels for data and the answer is always the same: no.

Like any large data set, this one has limitations. When I was walking through this concept with someone I know at AmEx, she said that algorithms based on AmEx data would never recommend Peter Luger’s steak house, because Peter Luger’s doesn’t accept any credit cards. That’s not ideal, but the ability to get recommendations without doing all of the work Yelp requires is still highly valuable.

AmEx also does not currently have SKU-level data. It knows I spent $39.95 at Amazon on April 16 but not that I bought the Le Creuset Stoneware Fruit/Pasta Bowl, Casiss. With SKU-level data, AmEx likely would have allowed the Brookstone charge to go through, knowing that Pan Am cufflinks fit with my profile as an aviation buff. AmEx could even have recommended them based on my earlier purchase of Concorde cufflinks.

Large retailers like Amazon are unlikely to share SKU-level data with transaction processors. That data is too valuable. But smaller retailers might. At a much smaller scale, that’s what the small businesses that use Square Register are doing. Square knows that when I’m in San Francisco, I have a fugazetta empanada at El Porteno. Square should be able to recommend other places I would like when I’m traveling.

This can all be done without me writing a single review. Watch what I do, not what I say I do.

[Image credit: paul prescott/Shutterstock]

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Mozilla CEO on mobile web openness: “We have to do better.”

Posted: 09 May 2012 08:49 AM PDT


Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs is optimistic about the future of the mobile web, but as it stands now, he simply isn’t satisfied with the mobile web’s accessibility and openness.

“We’re standing in the middle of a tremendous platform shift,” Kovacs said today in a keynote at the CTIA Wireless conference. “[But] I look around our industry and I see a lot of walls going up again. The reason we could plug in our computers and access the Internet in the first place was because we could agree on standards.”

Mozilla, the maker of the popular Firefox web browser, has a reason to be agitated at the state of mobile web. With Google and Apple increasingly controlling how the web works on mobile devices, a player like Firefox could get boxed out.

“The essence of it is that we are individuals and we want choice,” Kovacs said. “It’s impossible for me to believe that one or two companies will be able to curate content and foster development for 5 or 6 billion people around the world. It doesn’t add up.”

Kovacs said 7.2 percent of the world is now using mobile browsers, but by 2017, more than half the world will be using mobile browsers. That means Firefox needs a strong presence on mobile on top of its fairly strong hold on PCs and Macs.

He said he hopes HTML5 continues to grow and that, with 3 million HTML developers today, the web experience will continue to evolve and native platform development will fall off.

“Someone in this room will re-imagine the way we experience the mobile web,” Kovacs said. “We have to do better. HTML5 has taken off. It’s only a year old. A lot has happened in a year and a lot continues to happen.”

The way forward for mobile, Kovacs said, will be openness, standards, and a common language.

“Imagine if we all spoke a common language,” Kovacs said. “Image the explosion of innovation that would happen. I can’t predict the future, but I do know that the future is sooner and scarier than any of us can expect. … I’m pretty sure there will be one thing we can rely on: the web.”

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Foursquare plans for an obvious revenue maker: personalized coupons

Posted: 09 May 2012 08:07 AM PDT

Foursquare plans personalized coupons

While the usefulness of the location sharing app Foursquare may be dubious, one thing is certain: the company has so far lacked a real revenue source.

So it’s not at all surprising (and in fact a bit heartening) to learn that Foursquare is checking in to a new venture: coupons. Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley made the announcement in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Appearing in a July update of the Foursquare app, the coupons will take the form of personalized offers from local vendors, who will pay Foursquare for their placement.

The move, on the whole, makes sense. Foursquare, on the retailer end, has always been all about encouraging consumers to make repeat visits, a highly-desired thing for pretty much any business.

The plan, however, isn’t the first of its kind. Last year Foursquare announced that it was working with American Express  to offer discounts to cardholders when they checked into the locations of participating merchants.

But the company’s new plans are a bit more ambitious. With personalized coupons, it appears that Foursquare is finally nearing the point where it can monetize all the data its been collecting over the past three years. Foursquare’s 20 million users have checked in two billion times, so the company is clearly in possession of a lot of information.

But Foursquare faces some real hurdles, not the least of which is that most people are still not crazy about the idea of location sharing as a whole. That, Crowley hopes, may get better with time.

“People are still warming to the idea of location sharing. We are inventing this category, or really pushing it forward,” he told WSJ.

Crowley himself  ”lost his mobile couponing virginity” way back in 2008, before Foursquare was even launched. At the time the Crowely noted one of the biggest problems with the concept. “Mobile couponing isn’t a bad idea (I’m actually seeing it in a lot of mobile biz plans these days), its just so hard to execute because of a venue’s employees (the people behind the bar, cash register or counter),” he wrote on Flickr.

With Foursquare’s latest efforts, Crowley may have just found a way around that.



Photo via Flickr: MissMessie, Dennis Crowley

Filed under: mobile, social, VentureBeat

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Smoked by Windows Phone contest is a red-hot success, despite controversy

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:48 AM PDT

Microsoft’s Smoked by Windows Phone campaign — in which consumers battle their smartphones against Windows Phones in various speed contests — has been a smashing success for the company, generating over 100 million consumer impressions across a variety of media.

The numbers come from Microsoft evangelist Ben Rudolph, also known as Ben the PC Guy, who has been spearheading the campaign. It’s a good sign for Microsoft, which received a lot of flack for a recent incident in which one Android user was reportedly cheated out of the contest by MS store employees. Rudolph has since apologized to that user and offered up a free laptop and Windows Phone.

Other highlights of the Smoked by Windows Phone campaign: Over 50,000 smartphones tried to take on Windows Phones, and Microsoft’s platform won over 98 percent of the challenges. The campaign’s YouTube videos have generated over 8 million views on YouTube, and they also appear in two of YouTube’s Top 5 lists.

Microsoft launched the contest at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, in an effort to show how much faster Windows Phone can perform certain tasks. It has since evolved into a larger marketing campaign to show up its smartphone rivals. Microsoft initially offered a $100 prize to potential winners, but as of this weekend it has ramped up the prize to a laptop worth $1,000. (Losers also have the option of getting a free Windows Phone.)

While Smoked by Windows Phone certainly helped to get the word out about the mobile platform, it was evident from the beginning that Microsoft had the distinct advantage in many of the tests. They often took advantage of key Windows Phone features, like the camera button and live tiles, and didn’t give competing customers much of a warning to prepare their phones for the contests.

Ultimately, there was always something gimmicky and circus-like about the contest that rubbed me the wrong way. And while it may have generated more consumer awareness of Windows Phone, it’s tough to tell just what people think of the platform now. They’re certainly not buying Windows Phones en masse — despite the Lumia 900 being one hell of a deal.

Photo: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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Milestone for a mobile blockbuster: Angry Birds hits 1 billion downloads

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:32 AM PDT

Rovio announced today that Angry Birds has hit 1 billion downloads.

That’s a huge milestone for a game that didn’t exist as a brand until 2010. The downloads include all versions of Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio and the newly launched Angry Birds Space.

Here’s a video of what’s next from Rovio.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered, mobile, VentureBeat

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Take-Two delays highly anticipated BioShock Infinite game

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:21 AM PDT

BioShock Infinite was the picked as the most anticipated game by the Game Critics Awards at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), but the game has been delayed until next year and won’t even be shown at this year’s trade show.

Irrational Games, which has established its reputation as one of the most creative game studios in the industry, and publisher Take-Two Interactive announced today that BioShock Infinite is being delayed until Feb. 26, 2013. That’s too bad, since it is expected to be a cinematic experience that will push the industry toward high art — and better sales. The game industry has already been hurting from a lack of big titles, and this delay won’t help it this year.

BioShock took the game industry by storm in 2007 when it was released by the 2K Boston (now Irrational Games) division of Take-Two. That shooter game was set in an underwater utopia-gone-wrong city called Rapture, and it was praised as one of the most original games of its time. The game sold more than 4 million units, generating about $240 million in revenue at retail. Take-Two followed that with BioShock 2, a more derivative sequel that debuted in 2010. Irrational Games’ Ken Levine, designer of BioShock, moved on to BioShock Infinite, an extremely ambitious title set in a 1930s style alternate universe dubbed Columbia, another utopian city, which floats in the sky and is the setting for BioShock Infinite. This game (first announced last August) had no release date but was expected this year. It is being build by a team with more than 100 people, and it could help Take-Two diversify beyond its staple Grand Theft Auto games.

Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities, noted that there won’t be anymore risk of cannibalization since Take-Two’s other big game of the year, Grand Theft Auto V, is scheduled to be released in October.

Levine said in a statement, “When we announced the release date of BioShock Infinite in March, we felt pretty good about the timing. Since then, we ve uncovered opportunities to make Infinite into something even more extraordinary. Therefore, to give our talented team the time they need
to deliver the best Infinite possible, we ve decided to move the game s release to February.”

Here’s a note from Levine explaining the delay:


When we announced the release date of BioShock Infinite in March, we felt pretty good about the timing.

Since then, we've come to realize that some specific tweaks and improvements will make Infinite into something even more extraordinary. Therefore, to give our talented team the time they need, we've decided to move the game's release to February 26, 2013. We wanted to let our loyal (and very patient!) fans know this as soon as possible.

I won't kid you: BioShock Infinite is a very big game, and we're doing things that no one has ever done in a first-person shooter. We had a similar experience with the original BioShock, which was delayed several months as our original ship date drew near. Why? Because the Big Daddies weren't the Big Daddies you've since come to know and love. Because Andrew Ryan's golf club didn't have exactly the right swing. Because Rapture needed one more coat of grimy Art Deco.

The same principle now applies to BioShock Infinite.

What does this mean for you? It means a bit more waiting, but more importantly, it means an even better BioShock Infinite. The great can be made greater, and we owe it to both ourselves and to you, our fans, to take this opportunity. Irrational Games is one of those rare developers lucky enough to ask the people who sign the checks: "Hey, can we have a few more of those checks?"

We are also going to hold off on showing BioShock Infinite at the big events of the summer, like E3 and Gamescom. That way, the next time you see our game, it will be essentially the product we intend to put in the box. Preparing for these events takes time away from development, time we're going to use instead to get the best version of Infinite into your hands in February.

Filed under: games, gbunfiltered

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Instacanvas unveils online art gallery for Instagram photogs

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT


Pushing forward the elevated idea of Instagram photographers as modern day artists, a startup called Instacanvas officially launches Tuesday to give IG photogs online galleries where they can display and sell their filtered square captures as art.

On Instacanvsas, amateur and professional photographers alike can sign in with an Instagram account and set up an online gallery. Here they can promote and sell their contemporary, digital photo art as printed canvases and earn 20 percent of sales.

Instagram enthusiasts can purchase prints in 12-inch, 16-inch, and 20-inch square canvases, starting at $39.99, and (in theory) hang something more culturally relevant than a generic print in their homes.

The young company also provides its Instagram artists with a social toolset designed to help with distribution and exposure.

The idea is not a wholly original one. A service called Hashpix offers Instagram photographers a similar way to profit from their mobile shots. The printed pieces of Instagram art even remind us of those offered by CanvasPop, which makes 12-inch and 20-inch square, wall-ready canvases out of Instagram shots. So, the market appears to be there, but it may already be saturated.

Or not. Instacanvas, which first debuted in private beta eight weeks ago, says it powers more than 25,000 artist galleries, is already seeing 1.1 million monthly unique visitors, and is doing “thousands of dollars a day” in revenue. Today, the service will also open up to the “tens of thousands” of galleries on the company’s wait-list.

“[Our] approach sets us far apart from other players in the space,” Instacanvas CEO Matt Munson told VentureBeat. “Because we’re building an incredibly active community and enabling our photographers to promote their own work, we’re enjoying rocketship, viral growth without spending a dime on advertising.”

Ironically, Instacanvas joins an array of revenue-making startups profiting from Instagram — a feat that the service inspiring these third-party marketplaces never managed to achieve prior to its $1 billion sale.

Instacanvas is a graduate of Los Angeles incubator MuckerLab. The company has four employees and has raised roughly $500,000 in seed funding.

Filed under: social

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Military personnel and their families have a new ally in times of crisis: Facebook

Posted: 09 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT

Today, Facebook is announcing new military-specific tools for service members in crisis, struggling military family members, and veterans in need of assistance.

The social network has partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs and with Blue Star Families (a support organization for military families) to create a special set of military crisis content.

The lives of military members and their spouses and children aren’t easy. Orders can take military families halfway around the globe on what seems like a moment’s notice, and it’s hard to tell if a support system is going to be there for them when they land.

In recent years, more and more military families have relied on Facebook to create and maintain a virtual replica of the real-life relationships that gave them strength in times of uncertainty or turmoil. Sometimes, those online connections are to natal families; sometimes, those ties are to closer-than-family friends they meet at various bases around the country and even the world.

In fact, a recent Blue Star survey found that 86 percent of military family members use Facebook every single day. The same survey showed high rates of suicidal ideation in both service members (9 percent) and military family members (10 percent).

When you’re depressed and far from any place you could call a real home, Facebook may be the closest thing you’ve got — and it might be your best chance at strengthening the human connections that can help pull you back into a healthy and meaningful life.

So now, in addition to having access to Facebook’s existing suicide-prevention tools, military families and service members will have access to military-focused counseling services, including the Veterans Crisis Line, which is accessible via phone, instant message, or SMS.

“The Facebook platform, which is used on a daily basis by so many of our families, will be a critical means of helping our military community live long, healthy, and successful lives after they have sacrificed so much for our safety and way of life,” wrote a Blue Star spokesperson in a blog post this morning.

“The Facebook engineering team worked on a customized solution to identify military families and military personnel,” a Facebook rep told VentureBeat in an email. “As a result, friends and families that report content as harmful or suicidal will receive specific information about crisis services for our nation's military.”

Facebookers, Blue Star reps, and folks from the VA and the Wounded Warriors Project will be participating in a Facebook Live event to discuss and explain the new tools. The stream will begin at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

Filed under: social, VentureBeat

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Flipboard for Android leaks out — so much for Galaxy S III exclusivity

Posted: 09 May 2012 06:50 AM PDT

Flipboard Android on Galaxy S III

An early release of the Android version of social news reader app Flipboard has leaked out for anyone to install on their own devices — diminishing an exclusive Samsung scored to debut the app on its new Galaxy S III smartphone.

The Flipboard Android installation file, or APK, has been ripped and posted online at the XDA-developers forum. You’ll need to allow your Android device to install apps from “untrusted sources” to use the app, which is a very clear reminder that this is far from an official release.

From what we’re seeing, the leaked Flipboard version works fine across new and old Android devices. Like the iPhone version, the app allows you to follow news from topics you’re interested in, as well as news posted to your social media streams. Flipboard has long been one of the prime examples of well-designed mobile apps on iOS, so just like Instagram finally heading to Google’s mobile platform, it’s something Android users have long been waiting for.

Via SlashGear

Filed under: mobile, VentureBeat

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AOL revenue is showing signs of life, except where it counts

Posted: 09 May 2012 05:25 AM PDT

AOL logo

Continuing its trend of stemming the bleeding, AOL reported an increase in overall revenue in the first quarter 2012 to $529 million at 22 cents a share, which bests analysts estimates of $527 million at 7 cents per share.

Profits grew a healthy 349 percent to $21.1 million, up from $4.7 million a year ago.

AOL’s advertising was also up five percent to $330.1 compared to the same quarter last year, with its global display ad business seeing its fifth consecutive quarter of growth. Mostly this would indicate that AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong’s strategy of transforming the company into a media/advertising powerhouse is working — just don’t look at domestic ads.

AOL’s domestic display ad business declined by one percent to $118.9 million for the quarter, down from $120 million during the same quarter in 2011. The company attributes this to “a decline in reserved impressions sold, partially offset by growth in reserved inventory pricing and Patch revenue,” it states in the release. Considering that most of AOL’s largest properties are targeted at a domestic audience (as well as the amount of money it’s spent on publications to attract attention), this is an area AOL should be nailing.

In terms of traffic/audience, AOL reported a four percent drop across all its properties. Such information will certainly fuel the fire lit by activist shareholders like Starboard Value LP, who has said AOL’s media business is in trouble. This is partially due to a number of high-profile acquisitions the company has made since 2009, including the $25 million purchase of TechCrunch and the $315 million purchase of The Huffington Post. The lower traffic/audience numbers in Q1 could also add credibility to the rumor that AOL may be trying to sell some of its tech-related news sites, such as TechCrunch, Engadget, TUAW, and Joystiq.

Despite those crucial traffic and domestic ad growth being down, Armstrong said in the report that "AOL is a much stronger company today than a year ago and began 2012 by growing advertising revenue, lowering expenses and improving Adjusted OIBDA trend. In 2012 and beyond we are simultaneously focused on the continued successful execution of our strategy and on creating and unlocking value for our shareholders."

Here are some of the highlights from the Q1 earnings report:

  • Improved Revenue & Expense Trends Lead AOL to Increase 2012 Adjusted OIBDA Guidance to $350 Million*
  • Global Advertising Revenue Grows Year-Over-Year for the Fourth Consecutive Quarter
  • Combined AOL Properties Display & Third Party Network Revenue Grows 10% Year-Over-Year
  • Subscription Churn Rate the Lowest in Seven Years
  • Significant Improvements Made to Search and Contextual Revenue Trends
  • Operating Expenses Decline Quarter-over-Quarter for the Fourth Consecutive Quarter
  • Reported EPS of $0.22 Compares to $0.04 in Q1 2011
  • AOL Repurchased 1.8M Shares Since its Last Earnings Release at an Average Price of $17.65
  • AOL has Repurchased 14.8M Shares To-Date at an Average Price of $14.11

Filed under: deals, media

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HP launches dozens of Intel-based Ultrabooks for back-to-school shoppers

Posted: 08 May 2012 09:16 PM PDT

Hewlett-Packard has joined the swarm of computer makers introducing Ultrabook laptops based on Intel’s new Ivy Bridge processors.

HP introduced new consumer Ultrabooks and business laptops under the Pavilion dv and Sleekbook brand names. HP has more than 30 new business desktops, business laptops, and monitors in the new lineup. The back-to-school lineup — launched before this year’s school is letting out — is based on Intel chips that are debuting in large volumes in the coming weeks. The Ivy Bridge processors combine graphics and a microprocessor on a single chip.

"The products we unveiled today are inspired by our customers and confirm our passion to fuse form, function, style, and reliability into great computers and printers," said Todd Bradley, executive vice president, Printing and Personal Systems at HP. "We are well positioned to continue delivering innovation in the future for customers in China and everywhere else around the globe."

Among the new products are the HP Envy SpectreXT, an ultramobile premium Ultrabook for high-end consumers who value both good design and performance. HP is also launching the HP EliteBook Folio 9470m, an Ultrabook designed from the ground up for business users.

It is also unveiling HP Envy Sleekbooks and HP Envy Ultrabook systems, or entertainment-focused machines with 14-inch and 15.6-inch diagonal displays. The HP EliteBook 2170p is the company’s smallest and lightest-weight business notebook with an 11.6-inch diagonal screen. And for home consumers, HP is launching the HP t410 All-in-One Smart Zero Client.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Why Andrew Mason is still wrong about Groupon’s prospects

Posted: 08 May 2012 07:50 PM PDT

After an accounting restatement, a shuffling of its board of directors and Groupon’s stock falling to below 50% of its initial public offering price (and 66% off the high it reached on its first day of trading), Groupon CEO Andrew Mason wrote a letter to shareholders yesterday to try to swing the momentum back in the company’s favor. Although the stock jumped briefly, it dropped a little today.

Mason uses phrases like “reinvent the multi-trillion-dollar local commerce ecosystem” to paint a rosy picture of Groupon’s future. He’s wrong. The company faces a long, tough road ahead. Here is my analysis of Mason’s comments:

Mason claims that “Groupon is a marketing tool that connects consumers and merchants.” Actually, Groupon’s daily deals business tries to keep consumers from building relationships with merchants. Groupon (like other deal companies) does not provide consumer information to merchants. It’s in Groupon’s best interests to have merchants buy another Groupon rather than reach out to consumers directly through a free mechanism like email or Twitter.

Personalization. Mason cites deal personalization and targeting as something Groupon is doing right. I still get emails for laser hair removal and hair straightening on a regular basis. The fact is that Groupon does not have enough data to do targeting. Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and American Express have substantially more data on users than Groupon does. I’m one of Groupon’s best customers (having purchased at least 20 Groupons), but that data is trivial compared to what Google has on me. The typical Groupon customer has only purchased one Groupon.

Mobile. Mason refers to mobile adoption as an important potential success for Groupon. Here, I partly agree with him. Local commerce will be driven by mobile. But it also gets at one of the biggest flaws I see in Groupon’s path to date: The company spent hundred of millions of dollars on the wrong land grab. It built a giant, very expensive email list; that money should have been spent getting app installs. Now it’s having to spend money again to get the app installs.

Groupon Now. Mason touts Groupon Now, but the numbers in his own letter disprove its success. Groupon Now has sold 1.5 million Groupons compared with 170 million overall in 2011, according to the letter. That is less than 1%. On a revenue basis, I would expect it to be even smaller because Groupon Now deals are frequently for restaurants, which have lower tickets. LivingSocial, which pioneered the real-time deals product that Groupon copied for Groupon Now, recently shut down its product to focus on better opportunities. There are many structural reasons why Groupon Now will not be a success in the near term. I’ll write about those in a future post.

Groupon Rewards. It’s too soon to say how Groupon Rewards will perform. But it is an incredibly crowded space, with companies like Facebook, Foursquare, American Express, and Google all having their own offerings. (There are at least a dozen more.) Regardless, Rewards will have much smaller take rates than the daily deals business.

Groupon Scheduler. It’s a competent, but not excellent product. (See my detailed review.) Getting merchants to adopt this service will be a challenge. Groupon will be competing with vertical players like OpenTable and MindBody that can provide a product that is much better suited to the needs of each type of merchant. Nearly two months after I called Groupon out on it, the company still hasn’t answered the question of who owns the data that merchants put into the system. If a merchant inputs all of its contacts and appointments, can Groupon use that data to sell competing services? Until Groupon answers that very basic question, I advise all merchants to stay away from this product. Yield management is a smart business strategy that small businesses should take advantage of; Groupon has yet to make a credible case that it is a trustworthy partner.

Groupon seems to be chasing everything that moves without thinking things through. This isn’t surprising given that the company shot up to 11,000 employees (more than three times the number of people Facebook employs) without ever proving its original business model. It needs to focus on 3 or 4 products that it thinks will work, instead of trying everything and hoping it sticks.

Its core business model is in trouble and the other opportunities it’s going after are hard businesses with lots of competitors. From Mason’s letter:

Though our transformation from daily deal provider to local commerce platform will not happen overnight, in the coming quarters, we will release the products that we believe complete the foundation for our ecosystem. We look forward to sharing them soon.

Local has always been an incredibly difficult problem. It doesn’t spin out overnight successes. The companies that have succeeded are relatively small. OpenTable is valued at $823 million. Constant Contact is valued at $679 million. Although the optics of the daily deals business and Groupon’s questionable accounting made it look like a huge success, Groupon will find that the new business lines it is trying to get into take a long time and are highly competitive.

I stand by my estimate from last August when I told Emily Chang on Bloomberg West that Groupon is a $1-$2 billion company.

Mason does have one ace in the hole: Given the company’s ownership structure, he doesn’t really have to care about what Wall Street thinks. He could choose to ignore the stock price and do the right things for the business. That might give the company a fighting chance.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Funding daily: Score a used car on the cheap

Posted: 08 May 2012 06:34 PM PDT

We have several funding stories for you today, including several startups just getting seed funding. If you’re hankering for more details from each deal, click the links in each paragraph. As always, send funding news our way at tips@venturebeat.com

SessionM raises $20M

Advertising and customer engagement company SessionM has raised $20 million in second-round funding to help turn any mobile application into a customer retention game. SessionM provides tools to advertisers and app publishers that let them add gamification to their apps. Charles River Ventures led the funding round, with participation from Highland Capital Partners and Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers.

Mojo Motors fuels up with funding

Used-car shopping site Mojo Motors has raised $3 million. The site helps you find discounts on used cars and sends you alerts for new used-car listings. Atlas Venture led the round, with participation from existing investors RPM Ventures and NextView Ventures.

Ziften grabs $5.5M

Ziften has raised $5.5 million in its second round. The company manages application processes running on remote and local enterprise desktops to keep processing performance high. With its funding, it has released its first product, Behavioral Lightweight Intelligence for Stressed Systems (BLISS). Fayez Sarofim & Co. led the round.

CopperEgg gets funding

Cloud monitoring and analytics company CopperEgg has raised $2.1 million in funding. The company manages server performance whether on-site or in the cloud. Silverton Partners was the lead investor, joined by Webb Investment Network and others.

SportPursuit scores $2.3M

UK flash site for high-end sports brands SportPursuit has raised $2.3 million in funding. The site sells designer outdoor and camping products at a discount so they don’t end up in bargain shops. DFJ Esprit led the round.

Dysonics receives seed funding

Rawah Partners led a $750,000 seed funding round for Dysonics, a mobile audio company. The stealthy company is developing 3-D audio sound technology for headphones, aiming to create a more immersive listening experience.

Lujure announces $500K round

Custom Facebook page builder Lujure has raised $500,000 in funding. The site lets anyone quickly build a flashy Facebook fan page without code. Undisclosed angel investors from Modea, Rackspace, and TechStars participated in the round.

Equals6 gets $250K

Career-development social networking platform for students Equals6 has raised $250,000. Innovacorp led the round.

Used car sign via Flickr user GmanViz

Filed under: deals

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Judge throws out Proview’s iPad trademark suit against Apple in the US

Posted: 08 May 2012 05:52 PM PDT

Apple ipad judge

Apple had a small win in the US today when a Santa Clara judge threw out Chinese technology company Proview’s trademark infringement case.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Judge Mark Pierce of the Superior Court of the State of California in Santa Clara threw out the case saying Apple and Proview had agreed to settle legal issues in Hong Kong. Pierce added that Proview had failed to provide evidence that handling the case in China was “unreasonable or unfair.”

Proview sued the iPad creator for $2 billion in the US in February, soon after a Hong Kong judge scolded Proview for being opportunistic. The company filed for bankruptcy in August 2010 and halted the trading of its stock.

Apple says it purchased the iPad trademark from Proview in 2009 for $55,000, prior to the launch of the tablet. Proview says Apple bought the trademark from a subsidiary and does not have rights to the moniker in all of mainland China. The two are currently duking it out in China, where they are being pressured to settle the case. Indeed, Apple offered a settlement to Proview, which was quickly rejected for being too low a sum.

“We feel that the attitude of Apple Inc. has changed. Although they expressed that they were willing to negotiate, they have never taken any action before," said Proview lawyer Xie Xianghui to China's Xinhuanet.

Xie later told Bloomberg that the there was still a “big gap” between the two companies’ thinking.

via Wall Street Journal; Gavel image on the iPad via walknboston/Flickr

Filed under: mobile

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Where Zuck and the team are headed next: The full IPO roadshow schedule

Posted: 08 May 2012 05:45 PM PDT

We’ve got a look at the full schedule of Facebook’s IPO roadshow, the event where the social network travels the country and shows off its company to investors and banks in anticipation of going public.

On Monday, Facebook kicked off the roadshow with a lunch in New York City. So far the roadshow has included chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and chief financial officer David Ebersman playing a pre-recorded video from founder Mark Zuckerburg and making a short presentation to investors. Some investors have reported feeling a little disappointed by the presentations, especially since Zuckerberg showed up to the first event in a hoodie and only spoke for around 10 minutes.

Facebook traveled to Boston on Tuesday for a lunch presentation. Zuckerberg did not attend.

The roadshow is scheduled to continue through May 18, when the company is expected to make its public trading debut. Financial analysis company PrivCo obtained the following full schedule of the roadshow:

May 7, 11:45am EST: New York, Sheraton New York, 53rd & Seventh Avenue

May 8, 7:15am EST: Boston, The Four Seasons Hotel, Boylston Street

May 9: Philadelphia and Baltimore Stops. No location details revealed and Zuckerberg is not attending.

May 10: New York. Location will be privately announced to invitees.

May 11, 12pm PT: Menlo Park Lunch, Crowne Plaza, Palo Alto. Zuckerberg is expected to attend.

May 14: Chicago. Location will be privately announced to invitees on May 13.

May 15: Kansas City. Location will be privately announced to invitees on May 14.

May 15: Denver. Location will be privately announced to invitees on May 14.

May 16: Menlo Park. Location will be privately announced to invitees on May 15.

May 17: Menlo Park. Final morning of investor conference calls and meetings at the Facebook headquarters. IPO expected to price at approximately 5pm EST.

May 18: New York. NASDAQ opening bell.

Filed under: VentureBeat

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Mobile carrier CEOs verbally spar at CTIA roundtable

Posted: 08 May 2012 04:58 PM PDT


When the CEOs of AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile sit together on the same panel, sparks fly.

Just as they did a year ago, these prominent CEOs sat down today at the CTIA Wireless conference to talk about the mobile industry. CNBC host Jim Cramer led the keynote session, which featured Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility; Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel; Dan Mead, CEO of Verizon Wireless; and Philipp Humm, CEO of T-Mobile.

Before the session began, each CEO gave a speech outlining their company’s priorities and their expectations of consumers. What was fascinating about seeing them all lined up in a row was seeing how their styles contrast.

Verizon’s Mead came out first and talked at length about the coming “spectrum crunch,” emphasizing that there isn’t enough wireless spectrum available now to satiate demand that consumers have and will have in the coming years. Without solving the spectrum crunch, Mead warned, the American economy could be hurt, as the mobile industry fuels much job growth and innovation.

Sprint’s Hesse walked out second and focused his talk on trust and security. He said that consumers are confused about the terms “LTE” and “4G” and that “the number four has been misused.” Then he pivoted to say that security on smart devices would emerge in the next year as a much bigger priority, something Sprint is committed to solving.

T-Mobile’s Humm spoke third and focused his speech on T-Mobile’s recovery. He admitted that T-Mobile’s period as an acquisition target for AT&T damaged the company’s reputation and lost it customers. But now that the company is out of the deal, it can now regain customers’ trust. The vision he wants to project is that T-Mobile is highly affordable yet still on the cutting edge of tech. He finished the talk by showing a new ad that claims T-Mobile can offer a much better experience than what can be had with an iPhone 4S on AT&T.

AT&T’s de la Vega spoke last and used much of his time to pump up the company’s small-but-potent 4G LTE network and Digital Life, AT&T’s just-announced home automation and security system. On the LTE front, de la Vega cited a PC World study of LTE networks that showed AT&T as the winner. As for Digital Life, which won’t really take off until at least late this year, de la Vega seemed enthusiastic that it could wildly add to what consumers demand from service providers of in-home technology.

After the four CEOS got their time to shine, things really got interesting when they had to sit next to each other and be asked questions by the entertaining and sometimes erratic Cramer, who hosts Mad Money on CNBC.

Cramer and the CEOs mostly acted civil throughout, with each of the CEOs tying their answers to their presentations. Hesse referred to security and trust, de la Vega to LTE and home solutions, Mead to spectrum, and Humm to T-Mobile’s bright future.

One of the most interesting moments of the conversation was Cramer bringing up the new advertisement T-Mobile showed off. In the ad, a T-Mobile motorcyclist quickly outruns an AT&T motorcyclist, signifying the speeds of their mobile networks. de la Vega said the ad was simply not true and that its LTE network was quite fast. Humm shot back saying the ad is iPhone-specific and correctly pointed out that the iPhone can only take advantage of HSPA 14 on AT&T. de la Vega finished the verbal sparring by saying it’s not fair to compare a single device’s performance on a network to the network as a whole.

In another interesting moment, Cramer suggested to Humm that T-Mobile should separate from parent company Deutsche Telekom and file for its own IPO. Humm smartly refused to say anything on the matter but admitted that CTIA would be the perfect audience for such an announcement.

As for a full video recap of the panel, we will post a link once one is available.

Roundtable photo: Sean Ludwig/VentureBeat

Filed under: mobile

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Garrett Camp vacates CEO role at StumbleUpon

Posted: 08 May 2012 04:51 PM PDT

Other than the dedication of its founding team, few things have remained consistent at the click-to-discover, reborn startup StumbleUpon during its tumultuous, 10-year history. But, as frequent change has yet to kill the company, perhaps it can withstand the exit of its founder and CEO Garrett Camp.

Tuesday, Camp (pictured right) announced that he was stepping down from his CEO position and assuming the less demanding role of company chairman.

“I've decided to transition from CEO to a new role as Chairman of StumbleUpon, focused on the vision and strategy of the company while also starting a new venture,” Camp said in a blog post.

Under Camp and co-founders Geoff Smith, StumbleUpon thrived in its early days as a social browser utility for content discovery. In 2007, StumbleUpon was acquired by eBay where it nearly faded into oblivion. The founding team swooped back to the rescue in 2009 and the site has experienced a remarkable resurgence, growing from 5 million to 25 million users, ever since.

“The last 3 years have been incredible — completely rebuilding the company and expanding from a simple Firefox add-on to one of the largest discovery platforms on the Web,” Camp wrote.

Camp, also a founder and chairman at private car-for-hire startup Uber, is now retreating to satisfy his product design and strategy whims at a mystery venture, but he’s confident that he’s leaving his adolescent child in “capable hands.”

“A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving,” Camp tweeted Tuesday afternoon, quoting Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.

StumbleUpon is currently in search of a replacement for Camp.

Photo credit: StumbleUpon

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Casualty #1: Yahoo director Patti Hart steps down after CEO apologizes (updated)

Posted: 08 May 2012 04:17 PM PDT

Yahoo bites the dust

Updated 4:15pm with statements from Patti Hart and International Game Technology chairman Philip Satre.

The first one bites the dust. Yahoo director Patti Hart will not seek reelection at the board’s annual meeting. The company has been on shaky grounds for the last week after chief executive Scott Thompson was found lying about his education on SEC filings.

“After careful consideration, I have decided not to stand for re-election to the Yahoo! Board of Directors at the upcoming annual meeting of stockholders,” Hart said in a statement. “My primary responsibilities are to serve as chief executive officer of IGT [International Game Technology] and to eliminate activities that may interfere with my ability to carry out my commitments to IGT and its valued stakeholders.”

Hart took a lead role in vetting Thompson, who at the time was president of Ebay’s PayPal. Thompson had listed a computer science degree on his PayPal biography, which turned out to be falsified. Dan Loeb, head of Yahoo’s largest outstanding shareholder Third Point, found that Stonehill College — the college Thompson attended — hadn’t even created a computer science major program until years after he graduated.

Hart’s education credentials were also called into question, although the focus has remained justifiably on Thompson. International Game Technology chairman Philip Satre dispelled that rumor, however.

“After a thorough review, the IGT Board of Directors has found no material inconsistencies in Patti Hart’s academic credentials.  The Board unanimously stands behind Patti as our CEO and fully supports her leadership and the direction she has set for the Company. Furthermore, we believe her service as a member of Yahoo!’s Board of Directors could become a distraction from her responsibilities to IGT.  We have asked Patti not to seek re-election to the Yahoo! Board and we will closely monitor future developments at Yahoo! and their impact on Patti’s responsibilities to IGT.”

Given Hart’s failure to find the inaccuracy (or her decision to ignore it), she is giving herself the boot. Yahoo is launching an investigation into how this lie got through the gates and is hiring a law firm to help it do so, according to All Things D.

The scandal began when the board denied four director candidates Loeb was supporting, one of whom was himself. When Yahoo offered a board seat to only one of his candidates and another to a “mutually agreeable” candidate, he declared a proxy war on the company. Loeb has since demanded Thompson be fired.

Thompson released an apology for the lie last night saying, “I want you to know how deeply I regret how this issue has affected the company and all of you. We have all been working very hard to move the company forward, and this has had the opposite effect. For that, I take full responsibility, and I want to apologize to you.”

He continued, “I know the board plans to conduct the review thoroughly and independently, and I respect that process. I am hopeful that this matter will be concluded promptly. But, in the meantime, we have a lot of work to do.”

via All Things D; Bull image via Shutterstock

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SessionM makes any app into a pointless effort to gain points, gets $20M second round

Posted: 08 May 2012 03:38 PM PDT

SessionM raises $20MAdvertising and customer-engagement company SessionM has raised $20 million in second-round funding to help turn any mobile application into a user retention game.

SessionM provides tools for advertisers and app publishers to add a splash of gamification to any application. Customers can get points and earn achievements, called mPoints, which can be redeemed for specialty merchandise, gift cards, and contest entries. Advertisers can offer additional points or achievements through video ads or short games.

The thought process behind this method of advertising and customer engagement is similar to what has made Zygna so successful. Likewise, Foursquare is built on a similar principle and people can’t seem to get enough of earning points to shoot to the top of their leader boards.

SessionM exploits the allure of game play and allows anyone to add game-like tactics to their app with an HTML 5 overlay.  Other companies in this space, such as CosmiCube, build custom gamified apps, while SessionM works with the app’s existing code. The company boasts partnerships with big name companies McDonalds, Honda, and Livestrong.

Charles River Ventures led the funding round, with participation from Highland Capital Partners and Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. The company will use the money to scout out new team members and expand its technology.

SessionM is based in Boston, Mass. Last May the company received a $6.5 million investment, making SessionM’s total funding $26.5 million.

Filed under: deals, mobile

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Google+ hooks into Gmail for social networking via email

Posted: 08 May 2012 02:03 PM PDT

email social network

Another day, another improvement for Google+, the circle social network from Google — except today’s Google+ update might actually have you spending less time on the social site.

Starting Tuesday, Google+ is getting more fully integrated with Gmail, meaning that users can get more of the social networking experience inside the notification emails they receive from the service.

click to enlarge

With the update, a user that receives a Google+ notification email in Gmail can engage with the content just as he or she would if they were on the site. So, should someone comment on one of your posts, you can view the thread from the notification email, add your comments, dole out +1s, and watch as other responses populate in real-time — without ever leaving the email in question.

The reply functionality (but not the real-time update features) also works on mobile with POP and IMAP email clients. Previously, notification emails redirected users to the Google+ site.

“We're always working to create a simpler, more intuitive experience for our users, and with today's changes, we're excited to take another step in this important direction,” Google software engineer Zohair Hyder said of Tuesday’s announcement.

If anything, the socialized email notifications underscore Google’s long-term Plus strategy: to get people to use all of the company’s web products.

Enhanced notification emails are rolling out to users now and should hit your inbox sometime within the next week, the company said.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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Dylan’s Desk: How Mechanical Turk can help you find your next startup idea

Posted: 08 May 2012 01:59 PM PDT

Mechanical Turk combines human intelligence with computing

Mechanical Turk is Amazon’s army of pieceworkers, ready to help you blend computation with human tasks in web apps.

What I didn’t know is that MTurk is also a powerful tool for testing and refining ideas. I learned this while interviewing Dan Shapiro onstage at the Founder Showcase last week.

Shapiro is a remarkably successful entrepreneur. His second startup, Sparkbuy, was acquired by Google just six months after he launched it.

That’s after a successful go with his first startup, Ontela, which merged with Photobucket in 2009. That company took a relatively pokey four years to arrive at an exit. Of course, by most people’s standards, four years would be plenty fast.

But what makes Shapiro’s approach to starting companies so interesting is the thorough, pragmatic approach he takes to market testing.

“I’m always skeptical when I get too in love with an idea,” Shapiro told me.

So when he had an idea for making it easier to find and compare electronics on e-commerce sites, he turned to Mechanical Turk to test and refine the plan.

(It also helped that a Google business development executive he met on a plane expressed interest in the idea, but “that was just a tiny, positive indicator in the grand scheme of things,” Shapiro said.)

Mechanical Turk, a project Amazon.com started in 2005, is a brilliant fusion of human labor and programmatic computation. Using it, you can incorporate human effort into your web-based software simply by making an API call. It’s no surprise that entrepreneurs are excited about using MTurk as a low-cost way of recruiting help, particularly for repetitive tasks.

But it’s also a great, low-cost tool for doing surveys, and that’s exactly what Shapiro did.

The first part of his surveys is always the set of eight questions from the U.S. Census. That helps him determine demographics and figure out how “normal” his respondents are.

Then he follows up by asking them a ton of questions.

First, Shapiro asked 100 people to describe a laptop as if their friend was going to buy it for them. Then he analyzed the responses, categorized all the words they used, and did a second survey to measure how important each of those words were. After that, he did follow-up interviews.

What Shapiro found was that the #1 criterion for laptop shoppers was price (no surprise there). But the #2 criterion was quantity of RAM, which was a bit surprising because it is an unusually geeky metric. Who really cares how much RAM their notebook has, after all, except really techie people? After doing some interviews, he realized that what people really wanted was speed, but there was no way on electronics sites to specify “I want a laptop that’s fast enough to run PhotoShop.”

Using these answers from a series of surveys, Shapiro was able to craft a business plan for a company that would let you shop for laptops based on criteria people actually care about, such as the ability to run PhotoShop, or weight, or color. What’s more, he knew from his market research that these were the criteria customers would be most likely to respond to, so his business idea was essentially pre-tested.

“I love MTurk,” Shapiro said.

He also used MTurk in the course of business, not just for business plan testing. For example, Sparkbuy’s database of laptop attributes was built in part by an army of “Turkers.” And at Ontela, he’d put out surveys with 100 or more questions about the wireless industry, using them as a valuable market research tool.

The price is almost ridiculously low. Shapiro said he would pay about 26 cents apiece for people to answer these 100-question surveys.

Shapiro’s not a solitary genius — others, particularly academics, have discovered the value of using MTurk in research. In 2009, someone named Alex Frakking described in detail how he used Mechanical Turk for conducting surveys. He paid a bit more: about 3 cents per survey question, in an attempt to keep the hourly rate between $8 and $12.

Frakking makes an interesting point, which is that the very people who fill out your survey on MTurk might turn into some of your earliest customers. You can make that easier by letting them opt-in to a mailing list so you can contact them when you launch. “In the last big survey I did, about 20 percent of respondents gave their email for just that purpose, meaning the survey can pay for itself in leads,” Frakking concludes.

Are Mechanical Turk surveys statistically valid? Absolutely — or at least as valid as phone or website surveys.

“The funny thing is,” Shapiro told me onstage, “if you actually look at the methodologies behind the way everyone else does it, it’s just the same.”

In a 2010 study, researchers compared surveys done with MTurk to those done using the traditional sociological pool, Midwestern university students, and with people found on Internet discussion boards. MTurk compared favorably.

The study concluded “experimenters should consider Mechanical Turk as a viable alternative for data collection,” although it warned that subjects are susceptible to the same kinds of experimental bias found in other arenas. The takeaway: Design your surveys carefully.

Also, the authors warn, unlike undergraduates, MTurk workers aren’t replaced with a new crop every few years, so there’s the potential for long-term relationships between surveyers and those surveyed. So don’t be a jerk: Treat your survey respondents right and they’ll be there for you, potentially for years.

For people who are interested in following Shapiro’s lead, there’s an open-source set of tools for doing MTurk surveys, called Lime Survey. And IT World published a detailed list of tips on running experiments or surveys on MTurk.

The rest of my discussion with Shapiro covered topics such as who should raise venture capital (not everyone), his experiences selling Sparkbuy and merging Ontela and Photobucket, and his thoughts on crowdfunding. It’s worth a listen. The whole 30-minute interview is below.

Mechanical Turk image: Wikipedia

Filed under: Entrepreneur

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Qualcomm’s awesome Wi-Fi Display connects phones and TVs (video)

Posted: 08 May 2012 01:47 PM PDT


Prominent mobile chip manufacturer Qualcomm showed off its Wi-Fi Display technology Tuesday, and it’s a serious step forward for connecting TVs and phones.

Essentially, the Wi-Fi Display mirrors everything you do on your phone on your TV. When you play a game, look at photos, or watch a movie on your phone, all of that shows up with almost no lag on a connected TV set. A phone with a Wi-Fi Display chipset inside connects with a receiver that hooks up via an HDMI port on your TV set.

Qualcomm’s Wi-Fi Display is a technology standard that is enabled by the company’s components. The company showed off the new tech at the CTIA Wireless conference in New Orleans and representatives let me try it out to get a better feel. This was the first time the company has allowed folks to test a complete set up, and in the past, Qualcomm has never had a receiver on hand to simulate real performance. To test it, I played a few levels of Angry Birds simultaneously on an Android-based test phone and a Samsung smart TV.

Qualcomm representatives said the tech will find its way in several major manufacturers’ phones in the “second half of 2012.” We expect prominent Android phone makers like HTC to release models that support the new industry standard.

Watch a demo of the Wi-Fi Display below:

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The gangsters of Silicon Valley

Posted: 08 May 2012 01:30 PM PDT

Silicon Valley patent trolls are like mobsters meeting around a pool table

President Obama has been touting patents as a way to create jobs and increase U.S. competitiveness. "These are jobs and businesses of the future just waiting to be created," he said of patent applications last September, "somewhere in that stack of applications could be the next technological breakthrough, the next miracle drug, the next idea that will launch the next Fortune 500 company."

The President is mistaken — at least when it comes to the patent system as it relates to software patents. These patents — and the patent system — aren't creating innovation, they are inhibiting it and, by extension, job creation. Why? Because the breakthroughs aren't in the patents, they are in the way ideas are commercialized and marketed. Because of flaws in the patent system and government leaders' misunderstandings, there is an arms race of sorts happening in the tech industry that is sapping billions out of the economy and crushing technology startups. This system is enriching patent trolls — companies that buy patents in order to extort money from innovators. These trolls are like a modern day mafia. Given this, I argue software patents need to be eliminated or curtailed.

In the smartphone market alone, $15-20 billion has already been spent by technology companies on building defenses, says Stanford Law School professor Mark Lemley. For example, Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, mostly for its patents. An Apple-Microsoft-Oracle-Nokia consortium bought Nortel's patent portfolio for $4.5 billion. Microsoft bought Novell's patent portfolio for $450 million and some of AOL's patents for $1 billion. Facebook bought some of Microsoft's new AOL patents for $550 million. Lemley estimates that more than $500 million has been squandered on legal fees, and battles are just beginning. This is money that could have been spent, instead, on R&D.The larger players can afford to buy patents to deter the trolls, but the smaller players — the innovative startups — can't. Instead, they have to settle out of court. Patent trolls take advantage of this weakness.In a Sept. 2010 paper titled Patent Quality and Settlement Among Repeat Patent Litigants, Lemley, John Allison of University of Texas, and Joshua Walker of Stanford Law School, analyzed patent lawsuits. They found that repeat patent plaintiffs — "those who sue eight or more times on the same patents…are responsible for a sizeable fraction of all patent lawsuits." Indeed, 106 out of roughly 1 million patents (or .0001 percent) in force were responsible for more than 10 percent of all patent assertions. This isn't based on the strengths of the patents; many of these are among the weakest and least defensible. When the most-litigated patents go to trial, slightly fewer than 11 percent of patent holders win their cases, compared with 47 percent of those that were litigated just once. And most-litigated patents aren't also filed by the original inventors: nearly 64 percent are by what academics call "non-practicing entities"—in other words, patent trolls. These win an even lower percentage of their cases, coming in at 8 percent.

Technology industry heavyweight Brad Feld says that software patents represent a destructive force in the startup world. Companies have to worry about being sued the moment they have achieved first success. Instead of focusing on building their startup, they worry about hiring lawyers.

Public corporations are also paying a heavy price. To quantify this, in Sept. 2011, Boston University School of Law professors James Bessen, Michael Meurer, and Jennifer Ford analyzed stock market data and patent lawsuits. They determined between 1990 and 2010, the victims of these lawsuits, which were mostly technology companies, lost half a trillion dollars in wealth, forcing companies to divert substantial resources from production to litigation support. They found that software patents, including those on "business methods and financial processes," were the most litigated because they have "fuzzy boundaries." They are written in vague language and their scope is not clear. So technology companies can't easily find them or understand what they claim. This gives the trolls an opportunity to extort money.

Clearly, the laws need revision. Feld says that software patents should be completely abolished—that in the modern era of computing, the best defense is speed to market, execution, and continuous innovation.

But Lemley says that things aren't so clear cut. It's true that most of the problems in the patent system can be traced to software patents, he says. But, in a world where electronics are integrated into most everything, it's not clear we can simply eliminate them, in part because it's hard to know what a "software patent" actually is. A better approach is to stop patentees from broadly claiming to own any program that performs a particular task, rather than patenting the actual program they developed.

Lemley explains that patent law was meant to promote innovation by giving inventors the exclusive right to their inventions. But lawyers, he says, have been broadening the claims inherent in the patent filings beyond what the law intended. But, according to Lemley, patent law has faced this problem before. Seventy-five years ago, in the wake of the law's move away from a focus on what the patentee actually built towards what the lawyers defined as the boundaries of the invention, patent lawyers were increasingly writing patent claims in broad functional terms—they were claiming to own rights not to a particular machine, or even to a particular series of steps for achieving a goal, but to the goal itself. The Supreme Court ultimately rejected such broad functional claiming in the 1940s as inconsistent with the purposes of the patent statute. Congress solved the problem by saying that a patent was limited to the particular machine you built and ones like it, not merely what it did.

Software patentees have gotten around those rules by describing their machine as merely "a computer," however programmed. It's time to go back to the old idea that patentees have rights over things they build, not over solving problems by any means — before the patent trolls turn Silicon Valley into a rendition of 1930s Chicago.

Disclosure: Wadhwa is a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University and is affiliated with several other universities. Read more about Vivek Wadhwa's affiliations.

Originally published on WashingtonPost.com.

Photo of mobsters: Shutterstock


Filed under: VentureBeat

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Facebook ad trolls charged $100K, ordered to stop their trolling

Posted: 08 May 2012 01:14 PM PDT

“OMG! Look what happened to his ex-girlfriend.”

“I can’t believe a 2 year old is doing THIS!”

“You will be SHOCKED when you see this video…”

If you’ve ever been trolled by a scammy, spammy Facebook post with a headline like the above, you’re gonna love this news. Adscend Media, a horrible sewer of an ad agency, has been called out by the law for its incessant commercial trolling and has been ordered to cease and desist its deceptive business practices.

In a Washington court, the firm was charged $100,000 in attorneys fees and ordered to stop plastering Facebook with headlines “designed to trick Facebook users into allowing spam to be sent to all of their Facebook friends.” Adscend was accused of violating the CAN-SPAM Act, and while it originally contemplated fighting the charges, chose to settle instead.

This kind of clickjacking has long been on Facebook’s radar and is among the company’s biggest security concerns. Facebook teamed up with the Washington Attorney General early this year to put a stop to Adscend and send a message to similar scamsters.

Adscend specializes in the seedy underbelly of online marketing — lead generation, affiliate marketing, and “soft incentive” campaigns that lure users into filling out forms with personal information in return for a reward. The Facebook clickjacking racket was in line with these other practices.

According to today’s court filing, which we’ve embedded in full below, “They [Adscend] do not disclose that the messages are advertisements, despite the fact that the messages’ sole purpose is to lure users to participate in deceptive advertising scams if they click on the links presented in the posts. Given Facebook's social environment, users unwittingly click on the links because they believe the links were sent by their own Facebook friends.”

In reality, the messages originated from Adscend’s wide network of “affiliates,” professional Facebook trolls whose Pages are set up as bait for the scam. Now, Adscend will have to diligently monitor all its affiliates for CAN-SPAM compliance, as well.

Around 80 percent of Adscend’s $1.2 million monthly income was derived from Facebook scams.

"Facebook's security professionals have made tremendous strides against this particular form of attack and we are intent on eradicating it completely," said Craig Clark, lead litigation counsel at Facebook, in a recent statement.

"We will continue to use all tools at our disposal to ensure that scammers do not profit from misusing Facebook's services."

Here’s the full filing:

Filed under: security, social

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Analysts disappointed with EA’s outlook but see bright points

Posted: 08 May 2012 12:45 PM PDT

Electronic Arts shareholders are being sorely tested again after the video game giant posted good earnings but warned about a tough quarter ahead. The stock has fallen 4.8 percent today to $14.41 a share, valuing EA at $4.77 billion. That takes the valuation back to around 1999 levels.

Analysts who cover EA have had their patience tested as the publisher makes the transition from a company that sells $60 packaged goods in retail locations to a digital company with titles on online, social network, and mobile-game platforms (it is focused on brands, platforms, and talent). Here’s a summary of what some of the analysts said today in their research notes:

Atul Bagga, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, said that the performance of massively multiplayer online role-playing game Star Wars: The Old Republic, which went from 1.7 million subscribers to 1.3 million, disappointed. He is optimistic about EA’s platform strategy, where it will leverage its database of 220 million online gamers. He noted EA’s online store Origin’s revenue was $150 million in the fiscal year, up four-fold from a year ago. The Play4Free freemium web platform generated $23 million in the fourth fiscal quarter, up 80 percent. Bagga said he was encouraged by the long tail of digital sales of console games, a healthy pipeline for social and mobile, and strong mobile execution. He lowered estimates, reflecting a delay of one of EA’s mystery titles.

Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities, said he expects the recent momentum in digital revenues to continue with increased adoption of EA Origin, Star Wars subscription payments, social game The Sims Social and the release of the next Sim City (slated for this fall). He thinks digital revenue could grow from $1.2 billion for the year ended March 31 to $1.7 billion in the next fiscal year. But he noted that the change in guidance for lower revenues in the coming quarter magnified concerns about a potential decline for Star Wars this year and weak packaged goods sales for the whole video game industry.

Pachter took his fiscal year 2013 estimates down from $4.52 billion to $4.4 billion, and earnings per share came down from $1.25 to $1.20. Overall, he believes EA shares can hit $29 a share, or six times fiscal year earnings per share of $1.58, during the next 12 months.

Ben Schachter of Macquarie Securities said that his company was previously too optimistic about EA’s transition to digital games. In February, he cut his estimates. But now, he is slightly more positive, since EA’s long-term margin expansion and revenue goals around key brands are still viable. Consoles are weak, but digital should grow 20 percent in the next few years. He said Internet connectivity for the television is coming, and that could lead to more game sales. He said those who shorted (bet its stock price would fall) EA have seen their bets pay off, and now that will reduce downward pressure on the stock.

“Given the company's execution history, we are not yet ready to upgrade, but we see limited downside from current levels,” Schachter said. “A key problem for video game stocks remains investor apathy. While this issue will not turn overnight, we believe valuation can bring more value investors to the table and potential catalysts such as E3 [the key industry conference in early June], new hardware launches, and the powerful theme of increasing Internet use through mobile devices and televisions will also draw attention to the industry.” He said he believes in the stock because the digital transition will lead to higher margins.

Arvind Bhatia, an analyst at Sterne Agee, said that the guidance for the coming year wasn’t as bad as feared. He believes that EA’s stock will go back up as the console cycle begins anew. Bhatia believes that the title that was delayed was Overstrike, a game that EA will publish for Insomniac Games. EA will launch 14 packaged goods games in fiscal 2013, compared with 22 in fiscal 2012. But EA will publish 41 digital titles. He is raising estimates slightly. He believes the majority of EA’s new investment in future consoles will be directed toward Sony and Microsoft consoles, not Nintendo’s Wii U.

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Twitter defends rights of user, quashes subpoena for tweets

Posted: 08 May 2012 12:40 PM PDT

Caught in the middle of political hot-potato case, The People of the State of New York versus Malcolm Harris, Twitter has gone to bat for one of its users.

In a move applauded by the American Civil Liberties Union, the social network filed to quash a subpoena that ordered it to turn over “any and all user information” for Twitter-user Harris between Sept. 15 and Dec. 31, 2011.

“As we said in our brief, ‘Twitter’s Terms of Service make absolutely clear that its users *own* their content.’ Our filing with the court reaffirms our steadfast commitment to defending those rights for our users,” Twitter’s legal counsel Ben Lee said in an email statement to VentureBeat.

Harris, a senior editor at the non-profit news organization The New Inquiry, is a person of interest to the state of New York because of his involvement in an Occupy Wall Street march on the Brooklyn Bridge that led to 700 arrests. The District Attorney is prosecuting Harris for disorderly conduct and served Twitter with an order to produce account information and all tweets for a three month period for the @destructuremal account, the handle that Harris was using at the time.

Monday, Twitter formally responded with a motion to reject the order. “Twitter requests that the Court quash the Order and direct the District Attorney to request a search warrant for the desired records,” the information network said in its filing.

Twitter’s counsel argued that the order violates the Fourth Amendment, which guards citizens against unreasonable search and seizures, and would force the company to break federal law.

Twitter also stated that the order does not comply with the Uniform Act, a stance the information network conveyed to Assistant District Attorney Lee Langston in March. “Pursuant to the Uniform Act, a criminal litigant cannot compel an appearance by, or production of documents from, a California resident without presenting the appropriate certification to the California court, scheduling a hearing and obtaining a California subpoena for production,” Twitter’s legal team said in the email response.

In its motion, the company even argued that, based on Twitter’s terms of service around content ownership (Twitter users own their content), Harris has legal standing to challenge the original subpoena; the court previously ruled that he did not.

“This is a big deal. Law enforcement agencies — both the federal government and state and city entities — are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to obtain information about what people are doing on the Internet,” ACLU senior staff attorney Aden Fine said in a statement.

“[The Internet] is, in some ways, the ultimate embodiment of the First Amendment. But one potential problem for free speech on the Internet is that, for almost all of us, we need to rely on Internet companies. And while the government is bound by the First Amendment, the First Amendment may not always prevent private companies from restricting our free speech rights,” Fine said. “That is why it is so important that the public — and other companies — know when a company actually stands up for its users' rights. Twitter did so here, and Twitter should be applauded for that.”

Harris, for his part, celebrated Twitter’s motion to quash with a few tweets. “I’m thinking this bodes well for my request currently in to Twitter PR to borrow one of their giant blue birds and ride it into court,” he tweeted Tuesday.

Photo credit: Beau Giles/Flickr

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Hands on with the Kyocera Rise, a rare phone w/ Android 4.0 and a keyboard

Posted: 08 May 2012 12:04 PM PDT


Japanese phone-maker Kyocera has a long way to go before it can really penetrate the U.S. market in the smartphone realm, but its just-announced Rise smartphone — running Android 4.0 and sporting a pleasant physical keyboard — might help.

Kyocera introduced the new phone at the CTIA Wireless conference where we had a chance to test the device out and see what it has to offer. While the phone is not impressive in any one way, it’s a solid all-around package that will likely appeal to those on pre-paid carriers like Boost and MetroPCS.

The specs aren’t terribly impressive: the Kyocera Rise offers a 3.5-inch screen with 480-by-320 resolution, a 1-GHz processor, a 3.2-megapixel camera with LED flash, and a 1,500 mAh battery. Up close the screen looked terrible, with dull colors and a cheap-feeling plastic case. But on the plus side, the device is lightweight, the keyboard offers a nice typing experience, and its basic performance was fluid thanks to the Ice Cream Sandwich software.

The pre-paid market doesn’t get the sexy hyped phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III or HTC Droid Incredible 4G, but those who prefer more reasonable plans on the pre-paid carriers still want power and versatility out of their devices. That’s a completely fair expectation, and it is admirable Kyocera is tackling that. In the same category as the Rise is the Kyocera Hydro, a waterproof smartphone with Ice Cream Sandwich that was also announced at CTIA.

A Kyocera spokesperson told me on the floor of the convention that Kyocera doesn’t even register in the top 10 manufacturers by smartphone market share in the U.S. But its strategy of putting cheap Android phones on carriers like Cricket, MetroPCS, U.S. Cellular, and Boost Mobile seems a smart way to gain traction since the post-paid market is overcrowded with Android phones.

Pricing and availability for the Rise are both up in the air, but Kyocera said the device will arrive on pre-paid and post-paid carriers. We expect the device to be free with a 2-year contract or less than $200 upfront on a pre-paid carrier.

Check out our slideshow of the Rise:

Filed under: mobile

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How to hire the best talent in the world

Posted: 08 May 2012 11:30 AM PDT

What are the chances that the ideal people for your business live within commuting distance? And even if they did, could you actually find, attract, and afford them, given that great talent has countless options?

Traditional hiring is extremely painful. But with the explosion of online work, businesses are breaking the limitations of geography, and they aren't going back — 76% of businesses characterize online work as a long-term strategy, and 90% say it makes their business more competitive, according to data released by my company, oDesk, a few weeks ago based on a survey of over 7,000 of our clients.

It's easy to see why: Access to talent is a critical factor in accelerating success, especially for smaller businesses. MCF Technology Solutions, a development service for cloud-based platforms, is one of millions of startups leveraging online work for this reason. MCF started with just a few designers hired online, then turned to software developers, project managers, assistants, and more. Its 15-person on-premise staff is now empowered by 19 online team members, and CEO Govind Davis couldn't imagine it any other way. Wiith online work "I have an army," he said. "It is a huge breakthrough for us in allowing us to grow."

According to Staffing Industry Analysts, 50% of the Fortune 100 workforce will be contingent workers by 2020, and there is no reason most of these workers shouldn't be working online rather than on premise.

To stay competitive, it is imperative that businesses embrace this new working model. But when applicants are no longer sitting across the table from you, how do you assess whether they are a fit for your business? Here's how:

1) Go above and beyond your typical job description to attract the most qualified talent

Having a global pool — instead of being limited to only candidates within commuting distance — increases your chances of finding ideal talent for your role. And when workers have literally a world of jobs to choose from, the ones who actually pursue yours are more aligned with your needs.

But to tap into this larger pool of motivated candidates, you need a job description that's even more clear than usual, to increase the chances that the right candidates with the right qualifications find your job. The best descriptions not only outline skills required, exact objectives, and any key context, but also expectations for deliverables.

2) Single out exceptional communicators

As with local hiring, we typically look at four key dimensions when determining fit:

1. Personal characteristics
2. Motivation
3. Skills
4. Knowledge

However, some additional characteristics are particularly important online. Exceptional communication skills are especially critical — the best online workers check in frequently, ask smart questions, and skillfully articulate ideas and concerns. An ability to understand projects holistically is also key, as it allows online workers to foresee potential problems and propose new ideas.

3) Test drive your favorite candidates

For online hiring, it's common to start with a test project — a small assignment, requiring only a few hours of work, that is representative of the larger project and assesses the skills required. Test projects are low risk and extremely informative. You may even want to test multiple candidates and hire the best fit. Take your time in making the final hire, since you can complete the entire process — from fielding applications to making an offer — in just a few days.

What are you waiting for?

The world of work is changing for good, and clinging to hiring processes that worked in the past will quickly render your business extinct. Like anything new, you have to invest time in online hiring to figure out what works best for your business, but starting now will help you build a trusted online team at your own pace. You will be amazed by what you can accomplish when talent is your only criterion and geography is merely an afterthought.

Gary Swart is CEO of oDesk and has more than 17 years of experience in the enterprise software market. Prior to oDesk, he was VP of Worldwide Sales for Intellibank and Business Unit Executive for IBM’s Rational Software Product Group.

[Top image credit: Andresr/Shutterstock]

Filed under: Entrepreneur, VentureBeat

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Apple testing iCloud website notifications, but why?

Posted: 08 May 2012 11:28 AM PDT

iCloud notifications

Apple is currently testing a notification system for its iCloud web service via iCloud.com, according to a MacRumors report.

The notifications look pretty much like they do on iPads and iPhones running iOS 5.0 or higher, and presumably, its how the notification system will look when it comes to the latest version of Apple’s operating system OS X Mountain Lion.

And while we know that the company really wants to push iCloud integration in the future, I’m curious if notifications on the iCloud site would be overkill. Sure, the notifications can handle calendar and email alerts, but why bother if you’re already using an iOS device to sync all of these things together.

If Apple were to add a news feed and support for iMessages to the iCloud site, it could make those notifications a worthy addition. However, it would also mean Apple was tiptoeing its way into building a social-media walled garden. Without social and news features, I’d have no reason to spend time on iCloud.com, and I’m guessing many others would feel the same.

At this point, the only clear takeaway is that Apple plans to make its customers use iCloud more often on the web. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Image via MacRumors

Filed under: cloud, media, social

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